Star Fox Zero Review
The four years we’ve had the WiiU have been weird ones. Typically Nintendo-like, the console did its own thing and showed great potential through two things: the quality of games we have come to expect from Nintendo in, for instance, Super Mario 3D World, and secondly the promise of something different and new dependent on a developer’s imagination as hinted at by Nintendo Land, or ZombiU. None of this ever really got going though. The flow of Nintendo games never turned into an avalanche - there’s not been any Zelda game yet and even though one is coming, it’ll be simultaneously launched on the new Nintendo box of tricks, the NX. In terms of the experiences which did something different, it often boiled down to having a second screen for inventories or something similarly meaningless. Here’s where Star Fox Zero comes into play. Nintendo, led by Shigeru Miyamoto, came up with the concept of a new and rebooted Star Fox game, seemingly familiar to Star Fox 64 fans but not actually a remake, sequel or prequel. Platinum Games was invited to takeover the project due to the goodwill built up during Bayonetta 2’s development and for the very fact they could deliver more quickly and with a definite level of quality as seen in their output of recent years. With that we have a Star Fox game which uses the template of all Platinum fighters combined with gyroscopic and standard gamepad controls and a true two-screen experience. Perhaps unsurprisingly what we’ve got here is a mixed bag.
It’s very much a Star Fox game though, very much a Platinum game as well and, least surprisingly, very much a Nintendo game. Broadly a remake of Lylat Wars, Platinum have taken their tried and tested structure whereby they get you to play a series of levels each building in intensity from the last, interspersed with boss fights all the way to a finale which gets the adrenaline pumping. Once done, after anywhere from one to six or seven hours depending on ability, you go again, with the intent of getting better scores, finding the secret medals, completing each level via the alternative routes or with the optional bosses taken down. So instead of playing as Bayonetta or Optimus Prime and brawling your way through fifteen or so levels you pilot an Arwing, or walk around in an Arwing when in its walker form, and shoot all the bad guys to bits.
The Nintendo-ness comes into play most obviously through the controls. It might work for you, or it might make you go insane and run away as banging your head against a brick wall is more appealing. Using the WiiU Gamepad you pilot your Arwing but you have two views dependent on what you’re trying to do. You have a third-person view via the TV screen, and a cockpit view for more accurate blasting via the pad (these can be switched). Move your ship around by way of thumbsticks and buttons but aim those lasers using the gyroscopic capabilities of the pad. You have twice the opportunity to score a direct hit but all told it’s just too difficult at first to get your head and that age-old muscle memory working properly. Sure, you will get there if you persist but the journey is just not fun when you’re barrel-rolling around and shooting off-screen whilst trying to aim at the gigantic bad guy who is now due East of you, with you headed due West. It’s not helped by the fact the pad needs to be regularly calibrated by pressing Y to ensure you and your shooting reticle are in a sensible and relevant position as you move around.
It can’t be stated more clearly but the fact is that the controls are the reason to get this game and also the reason to avoid it entirely. If you are entertained by it and willing to put in the hard yards then you’ll get going with the game, engage with it and likely push on all the way to the end and beyond. But to do that requires a fair bit of effort that isn't offered by most folk who want to fly and shoot things with furry animals. If you persevere you’ll get the hang of it and you will see what was intended and most likely crack a smile or two along the way. It’s just not worth doing that for most people. Our experience throughout the running time was one of frustration and annoyance as no sooner than getting a good flight in, or a win in battle, you’d lose your idea of where you and your lasers were and either struggle to work it out whilst getting battered all the time, or hammer Y again to calibrate and still not be sure where you are as your eyes have gone from TV to pad and back again in expectation that eventually it’ll all become clear once more and the horrible enemies can be put to the sword - or laser, anyway.
It’s a glimpse of what the WiiU could have been then, all wrapped up in a nice shooter from a very talented studio. But it’s only nice and in seeing what the WiiU could have been you perhaps wonder why that was the way forwards in Nintendo’s mind four years ago. It’s unlikely the same ideas and options will be part of the NX when it’s launched later this year and in that reality it shows the lack of belief in what’s provided here. It all looks good enough with signature polygons all over the shop, and it’s slick with silver rings to restore health and gold ones acting as checkpoints. It’s got the all-too American sounding voiceovers and the characters many will fondly remember from the early ‘90s - whilst others will find them all too cute - but it’s just a bit too short, a little fiddly and somewhat less than invitingly re-playable to recommend to many more than the concrete fans or curious WiiU owners intrigued by the last hurrah of a dying platform.